Coherence Week 3 Notes
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In week 3 of our Coherence Ministry Training Class, we discussed mankind as he/she is described in the Bible. In the first part, we talked about how God made us in his image, how He made both male and female, and how God carved out (adopted) a people for Himself (a.k.a, the Jewish People).
In the second half we talked about things nobody likes to think about: sin, death and judgment. Most people really struggle with that last topic: judgment. I have been asked before why such controversial topics are covered in this course. Wouldn't it be better, it is argued, to focus on the lovingkindness (chessed) of God rather than his wrath?
That is a fair question to be sure, but my answer has to do with the fact that Yeshua and his followers all addressed this topic – judgment – in a variety of ways. Most notably, the author of the rhetorical masterpiece known as Hebrews informs it readers:
Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, faith in God, teaching about ritual washings, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And we will do this if God permits. (Hebrews 6:1-3)
Thus the author felt that an understanding of the Resurrection and Judgment was “Messianic 101.” For this reason, among others, we have seen fit to include these items in our basic courses. While I did not emphasize this last week, I should be clear here: when I say “Resurrection” I refer to a bodily one; that is, we believe that although our soul/spirit is alive and well despite a cessation of metabolic function, our bodies will be raised.
But the larger "elephant in the room" is the concept of eternal judgment. As far as we understand from Scripture, Hell (or Gehenna), is indeed a reality just as much as heaven is.
Most of the time when people argue against Gehenna it is based upon emotion or philosophy (e.g., “a loving God would never send His creation to judgment.”). Yet such a thought is not found in Scripture. Indeed God is a God of mercy, but he is also one of Judgment. God judged Korah quite harshly (Numbers 16:32) as well as Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). And lest we forget, the nation of Israel (save a select few) died in the wilderness due to their unbelief (Numbers 14:20-23).
But others invoke rather stretching imagery to escape the issue if Gehenna: for example they argue that if Gehenna is all about “fire” then the wicked will be consumed and cease to exist (a.k.a. annihilation). The problem with this is that Scripture itself never argues this way and in fact uses a number of different ways to describe Gehenna besides fire. Yet, the one common theme of all of these descriptions is clear: Gehenna is never any fun to be in for eternity (Daniel 12:2, Isaiah 66:24 c.f. Mark 9:48).
The concept of the wrath of God and subsequently the eternal judgment of Gehenna become unavoidable when we look at the entirety of Scripture. In fact, the intertestamental literature and the Rabbinic literature describe similar things in regard to Gehenna – the idea of Gehenna was not “invented” by Christians. But I remind you that God does not “send” anyone to Gehenna – rather it is our choice, our idolatry, that compels us there. One of the most chilling descriptions of Gehenna is not one of fire (Matthew 18:8) or darkness (Matthew 25:30), but one where the presence of God does not inhabit (Matthew 25:41).
May we labor as if not just heaven is real, but also as if Gehenna is real too.